Women in the workplace face many gender-related challenges, including pay inequality, glass ceilings, and maternity/childcare conflicts. A recent article from Forbes highlights yet another issue for female workers: interruptions by male co-workers. While the article focuses on business culture rather than legal claims, we believe such a culture might present legal pitfalls for both employees and employers.
Studies from George Washington University (2014) and the University of California conclude that men are three times more likely to interrupt women in a conversation than the other way around. Even the most successful companies in the world seem susceptible on this issue. In 2015, Google executive Eric Schmidt kept interrupting CTO Megan Smith (the only woman co-panelist) during a talk about innovation at SXSW. During the Q&A session after the panel, Judith Williams, Google’s Global Diversity and Talent Program manager, publicly called out Schmidt for his “manterrupting” of a female colleague.
In Time magazine’s article about the Schmidt manterrupting incident, Williams noted the following issues that often arise in a business culture dominated by male voices:
- Women speak up in meetings only to have men chime in louder.
- Women pitch ideas and men authoritatively repeat them (as if claiming some ownership).
- As a consequence, women are shut down, held back, and become less creatively engaged.
These points suggest that manterruptions produce gender side effects similar to other poisonous practices that most modern businesses prohibit. Gender-based legal claims have their roots in business practices and cultural phenomena that later became prohibited by law:
- Bullying in the workplace – Federal and state law protects employees from discrimination based on gender that includes demeaning behavior that causes serious emotional harm and negatively affects a victim’s career.
- Hostile work environment – Often this claim involves sexual harassment, but a hostile environment includes any work environment where employees experiences harassment because of their gender.
- Employment discrimination – Federal and state laws protect employees from unfair treatment and discrimination based on gender (among other protected categories).
While an “anti-interruption” claim may seem a remote possibility today, systematic and consistent manterruptions, if shown to cause real harm to a female employee, could indicate a systemic problem and lead to discrimination, hostile work environment, and/or retaliation claims.
If you have a crisis or concern about bullying in the workplace, hostile work environment, employment discrimination, or retaliation in the workplace, contact the employment attorneys for workers at Hanan M. Isaacs, P.C., at 609-683-7400, or contact us online to set up a near-term reduced fee initial consultation at our Central Jersey location in Kingston. We will listen to your facts, explain the law, and recommend your best pathways to monetary and social justice. Call today. You will be glad you did.